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How governance affects participation: Insights from water resources planning projects in Colombia and Peru

SEI Discussion Brief

Author(s): Bresney, S. ; Escobar, M. ; Moncada Aguirre, A.M.
Year: 2017

This brief explores how the design of water resources governance systems in Colombia and Peru affect stakeholder participation, drawing on insights from SEI projects in both countries.

There is a growing interest in improving the governance of natural resources to ensure both equity and sustainability. Governance is not the same as government – political authorities – but instead looks more broadly at how decisions are made and resources are managed, and the multiple actors, including civil servants and stakeholder groups, who participate in the process.

Local and national water governments are increasingly reorganizing their management structures to better promote more inclusive water governance. Many have adopted participatory processes, and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), a holistic approach to governing water based on stakeholder participation, has been widely embraced as a path toward sustainable and equitable water governance. There has also been extensive discussion of decentralization versus centralization, the best scale for management, and whether jurisdictions should be delineated by hydrologic boundaries or political ones.

Despite all these debates, water resource governance still varies greatly by scale and location and in its level of success. It is clear that no one structure fits all situations. Some have also noted that the breadth of the concept of governance, which is essential to its success, may actually inhibit progress or change in some cases.

This discussion brief examines how Colombia and Peru have restructured their water and environmental governance systems in recent years. It is based on SEI’s experience in supporting water resource planning and climate change adaptation processes in both countries, using an approach we call Robust Decision Support (RDS), which combines technical modelling with stakeholder engagement. It begins by providing an overview of the reforms in both countries, then explains how the RDS process was implemented in each country and how governance structures affected stakeholder participation. SEI’s experience suggests that even thoughtfully designed governance approaches may not fully lend themselves to effective, science-informed water policy development and implementation. Thus, approaches need to be adapted to better fit with specific governance systems.

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